30 April 2009 By Anna Malpas / The Moscow TimesWhen President Dmitry Medvedev opened his blog on LiveJournal nine days ago, Ryazan region advertising executive Andrei Zubarev immediately posted a complaint about the conditions at a local children's hospital.
What surprised him was that the Kremlin responded -- and quickly. Two days after his post, he learned that Medvedev was looking into the matter. Then Ryazan's governor called a news conference.
"To be honest, I didn't expect anything because there were a lot of comments" on the blog, Zubarev said Wednesday. "We were very pleased because the situation really is terrible."
Medvedev's blog has attracted more than 8,000 comments since April 21, many complaining of dire living conditions and others openly critical of the government's decisions. Some comments are written by people who say they have bought apartments in fraudulent property developments or have spent a lifetime in crowded communal apartments. Others name and shame corrupt bureaucrats, such as one who writes that he saw two Lexus cars parked outside the house of Novosibirsk's mayor.
The LiveJournal community allows people to post comments without registering -- unlike Medvedev's parallel video blog on Kremlin.ru -- and it is earning Medvedev praise from across the blogosphere.
When it opened, Zubarev wrote to Medvedev, who was due to visit Ryazan, about the children's hospital and posted a link to his own LiveJournal page showing photos of rust-stained radiators and toilets and moldy mattresses.
Two days later, Medvedev's blog posted a message to Zubarev, saying the president had asked Ryazan's governor about the hospital.
Following Medvedev's intervention, several commissions visited the hospital, and the governor held a news conference, Zubarev said. "There has been an effect," he said.
"It's much simpler and quicker," Zubarev said of the blog. "I know how long it takes for officials to look at complaints, and then they forget about them in two seconds."
LiveJournal has become a key forum for political debate in Russia. Among those who keep LiveJournal blogs are Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov, Kirov Governor Nikita Belykh and Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov.
"It's essential to be there for anyone who wants to position himself as forward thinking," said Alexander Plyushchev, a television and radio host and prominent blogger.
Bloggers said Medvedev's active use of the Internet has won respect.
"I can't say that bloggers have any special reverence for [the blog], but you can't deny that Medvedev is the most technically advanced president," Plyushchev said. "I haven't heard anyone talk about it contemptuously."
Medvedev began a video blog on the Kremlin web site last year, and the LiveJournal site posts his videos.
"The videos are immediately picked up by bloggers," said Alexei Chadayev, editor of the Liberty.ru social network and a member of the Public Chamber. "He speaks for himself in the videos, and it brings him much closer."
Written blogs aren't so popular because people think that press secretaries write them for the politicians, Chadayev said.
Medvedev's blog does have an official tone, however, because the Kremlin press service posts extracts of Medvedev's speeches.
Medvedev spokeswoman Natalya Timakova has also opened a LiveJournal page, although she hasn't written anything on it yet.
"It's possible that there will be comments from Medvedev's press secretary in the community," said Alexei Shaboldin, who runs the Kremlin.ru web site and Medvedev's blogs. He said he couldn't give a start date.